From the Desk of Jason Eckert, Executive Director, Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation
Showing Who We are and Telling What We Can Do
RDPFS has always had a goal: To support programs that seek to increase the independence of persons living with vision loss, promoting their inclusion in the community with their sighted peers. On December 1st the Foundation’s Board of Directors agreed to support two grants that do just that.
The Board agreed to support a program spearheaded by Guiding Eyes for the Blind that contributes to this goal. For years they have been a leader in using genetics to breed guide dogs with superior health and temperaments. This breeding process has resulted in the creation of more effective and longer-lasting guide dog teams, making it possible for individuals with vision loss to integrate into the overall community and maximize the benefits provided through their service animals. A few years ago, Guiding Eyes, together with two other renowned guide dog schools, developed a database that tracks the genetic traits among the brutes and studs they mate. The resulting database provides more reliable and accurate information which improves the use of genetics for breeding dogs. This, in turn, increases the number of dogs with good temperaments, improves their health, and decreases the number unable to make it as guide dogs. Today 11 of the 14 guide dog schools in the United States use this database. RDPFS awarded Guiding Eyes for the Blind funding to train staff members of the 11 schools involved to input their data with greater accuracy, thus improving the reliability and validity of the data being shared. The result: better data applied to breeding that will improve the quality of guide dogs across the nation. There will be shorter wait lists for healthy well-tempered dogs that will perform better for their human companions.
Prevent Blindness received a grant in support of their ASPECT program, which launched last year. In this training people living with vision loss (or family members) are taught how to become effective story tellers and then how to use their personal story to advocate for the rights of persons living with vision loss or funding for the blindness community at large. A good example of this technique is the Ted talk from Isaac Lidsky on What reality are you creating for yourself? Upon successful completion of the program, graduates participate in advocacy opportunities designed to benefit the blindness community, such as testimony for legislation and policy activities for greater accessibility in local communities across the nation. Some opportunities are arranged by Prevent Blindness, with others generated by ASPECT program graduates. Now the Prevent Blindness team seeks to increase the program’s efficacy by developing and disseminating teaching materials and advocacy opportunities on a web-based alumni platform. Here alumni can directly interact with the Prevent Blindness team and other alumni advocates, sharing materials, advocacy opportunities, and experiences. The RDPFS Board of Directors has agreed to support the development of this platform.
Both funded programs contribute to improving the way persons living with vision loss participate in the fully sighted community: First, by displaying excellent independent travel skills with the aid of a well-tempered, healthy guide dog and, once in the community, telling a well-crafted compelling story about how we live our lives. Just like we learned as children, it is most important in life that we show and tell what we can do. Happy Holidays.
A recently released resource, “Employers’ Practical Guide: Reasonable Accommodations During the Hiring Process,” sums up some of the situations employers frequently face when dealing with requests for accommodations from applicants and candidates with disabilities. Produced by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) of the U.S Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), the guide “includes ideas and resources for providing accommodations quickly during the hiring process.” It uses steps outlined in JAN’s sample interactive process for both employers and employees to work together to come up with an appropriate plan of action and offers ideas for streamlining the process in developing, implementing, and monitoring the accommodation. Read the full "Employers' Practical Guide to Reasonable Accommodation During the Hiring Process" here. And Check out the announcement of the guide in the ODEP News Brief here.
by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern
The holidays and colder weather are fire season for many areas of the United States. According to an article by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), house fires increase markedly from December through February. Handling fire safely and escaping in an emergency can seem more challenging for those with vision loss. Fortunately, many precautions can be taken, with the main point to review and practice fire safety plans and procedures frequently. A United States Fire Administration (USFA) report on fire risks for the blind or visually impaired states that individuals with vision loss are less likely to have fire safety education targeted towards them, less able to extinguish small fires safely, and their senses may be overwhelmed in an emergency. Here are some of the recommendations, along with some from other sources listed below, that complement general fire safety tips:
- Live near an exit if possible, either on the ground floor or near a stairwell to which you know the route.
- Have working smoke alarms on every level of your home, outside each sleeping area and, in some jurisdictions, in every bedroom. Deaf-blind people should have a bed-shaker smoke alarm. An article with safety tips from Disability Navigator notes that most audible alarms have small silences between cycles when you can communicate with others. According to a Business Watch article on smoke alarms, many also have a “hush” feature where pressing the “test” button on the front of the device acknowledges and silences the horn. While this lowers the sensitivity of the smoke sensor and is meant to reduce false alarms, it can also be used once everyone in the household is evacuating the building so a person’s hearing is not overwhelmed.
- Develop a fire safety and escape plan and practice it often, preferably every six months. Have other members of the household help. If necessary, contact your local fire department to alert them of your needs in the event of a fire.
Tips for handling fire safely include:
- Do not wear loose-fitting clothing around open flames;
- When cooking, extinguish a grease fire by sliding a lid over the pot or pan and turning the heat off;
- Keep space heaters at least three feet away from other objects or people;
- If your clothes catch on fire, remember to stop, drop and roll; and
- Fireplaces should be guarded by a glass screen or a hearth. People who are visually impaired can learn to build a so-called “tepee fire,” placing newspaper around the bottom with stick layered above. Then light the fire, being sure to extinguish the match.
Many more facts and tips are included in the links above. Stay safe this winter.
by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern
It’s no secret that dealing with laundry can be a challenge for those with visual impairments. It can be hard to remember which clothes and colors can be washed together and which items should be laundered separately from everything else. Some may react to this by grouping things more indiscriminately than is recommended. There are, however, many resources around the web to help, most found with a simple Google search, such as these laundry tips from VisionAware. This article lists suggestions applicable when doing laundry at home or in a laundromat. Highlights include:
- Use different hampers or bags for sorting;
- Safety-pin matching socks or buy all white and/or all black socks with different textures;
- Use the cap of the laundry detergent to measure or, alternatively, detergent pods;
- Consider different methods for determining washer and dryer settings, e.g., listen and count clicks, make labels, or contact the manufacturer for a Braille label or overlay
A list of tips from the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired South Carolina offers different but complementary advice, including using a color catcher in every load in case of incorrect sorting.
More information can be found in both above articles, but there is a plethora of other posts, podcasts, videos, and more, accessible via a web search.
by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern
As this is the last bulletin in 2022, we are highlighting the fact that January is Braille Literacy Month, and January 4th is World Braille Day. This year marks the 214th anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille. While, as of this writing, there are not many announcements about commemorative events occurring on that day, be sure to follow the websites of major blindness organizations which announce such happenings in the coming weeks. The United Nations (UN) officially declared the holiday in 2018, and the first events were held on January 4, 2019. However, January 4th had been celebrated by the vision loss community for years before, with particular emphasis on the 200th anniversary in 2009. On World Braille Day 2022, the United Nations made a post on their website honoring the holiday, emphasizing the importance of equal access and Braille literacy around the world. It specifically notes efforts in developing countries such as Malawi and Ethiopia to make COVID-19 prevention materials accessible, through Braille and audio. This is particularly relevant not only because people in these areas have less access to technology and vision loss services as well as lack of knowledge of COVID-19 guidelines, but also because many countries still have very low vaccination rates due to a lack of uptake and/or supply. The post also features a photo of a training officer for poll workers in Sierra Leone reading a tactile ballot guide showing people with disabilities how to vote. This highlights the fact that many people with disabilities often do not vote in elections, either because they don’t know that they can, or because systemic barriers, such as voting access limitations, make it more challenging for them than for those without disabilities. As the number of people with vision loss literate in Braille continues to be low in the United States, efforts like these, as well as introducing Braille more widely into state and local education systems, are critical. You can find more about international efforts in the above post at the UN’s World Braille Day homepage which also contains additional links to historical background, stories, and resources related to the day.
When planning workplace or other large holiday events, some steps that can ensure accessibility for all attendees are available in a checklist from the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disabilities (EARN). This very detailed checklist explains what steps can be taken before, during, and following the party or other activity to enhance accessibility. For example:
- Those invited should be asked on the registration form what accommodations they need.
- Graphics on invitations need to have text descriptions and calendar invites should include event details, how to access accommodations, and a contact for any questions about accessibility.
- During the event, describe in words any visual information, like slides, pictures, or demonstrations, and read aloud any text on a visual.
- Provide information on locations of emergency exits, restrooms, and any tables with gifts, food, or other items.
While this is a comprehensive guide, specific requests for accommodations are based on a person’s particular disability and should be reviewed individually. To help to make sure that holiday parties and other events are accessible for everyone and for more tips, Access the Accessible Events Checklist here.
Making the Holiday Season Brighter for People with Vision Loss
As the holidays rapidly approach, many family members, friends, and caregivers may face concerns about how to ensure that “the holidays are a problem-free and joyous time for their visually impaired and blind relatives.” The Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI) provides tips that can help, including:
- When decorating, do not reorganize or move major items like furniture, belongings, and other household layout features. Moving things around can be hazardous for someone with vision loss.
- Use contrasting colors at the dinner table to make items like tablecloths, dishes, and food items stand out.
- Provide narration at gatherings and parties, when introducing yourself and others. Be verbally descriptive in explaining where things are or what gifts are being opened.
- “Empower everyone to participate.” Be sure to involve those with vision impairment to join in activities others are participating in, like helping to fold napkins, dry dishes, or help with other kitchen activities.
Enjoying Holiday Outings with Family and Friends
Holiday outings with family and friends can be enjoyed together and with greater ease with some pointers on planning where to go and how to prepare for the season’s adventures. Here are a few offered by BrailleWorks:
- Check out holiday activities that are multi-sensory, like those with sound and tactile experiences rather than strictly visual experiences.
- In considering new venues, check into whether they have “hands-on, sensory-friendly, and child-friendly” activities.
- Before venturing out to an activity, ask about accommodations.
- Keep a reasonable pace, “enjoy the little things,” and “Watch for those magical moments.” Don’t rush from one activity to another too quickly.
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Note to Readers: This is the last bulletin we are publishing in 2022. The next issue of Resources for Partners will be sent to you on Friday, January 6, 2023.
Have a wonderful holiday season and happy and healthy New Year!